Thursday, 12 August 2010
Summer of Ships, Saints & Swallows 2010 Part 1
Summer of Ships, Saints and Swallows – June/July 2010
Part 1 – BLEU DE FRANCE
Saturday 19th June 2010
My early morning flight to Marseilles on the French south coast ended with the aircraft hurtling along the runway towards the blue sea. Goodness, that concentrated my mind, never mind that of the officers on the flight deck!
Safely in the city thanks to the airport bus, I could check in to the hotel and dress to withstand the terrifically high winds buffeting the port. Of course we had to go and see the ships, viewing them from the height of the Old Fort, but it was certainly a struggle to walk against the strength of the Mistral. Locally it was said to be blowing at 80 kilometres an hour. A trip to a maritime bookshop in the Old Port and then dinner completed the day. Tomorrow was to be the start of the Ocean Liner Society’s annual cruise, this time on BLEU DE FRANCE.
Ships seen: Cote d’Albatre (seen from the aircraft as we flew over Newhaven!), Kalliste, Paglia Orba, Napoleon Bonaparte, Costa Fortuna, MSC Splendida, Atlantic Star (ex Sky Wonder), Amilcar, Elyssa, Corse, Tariq Ibn Ziyad.
Sunday 20th June 2010
Later today we will check in for the 7 night cruise on Croisieres de France’s BLEU DE FRANCE, but before that there is ample time to stroll down to the harbour and take breakfast at one of the waterside cafes, before walking to view the ships from another Fortress in the Old port.
Check in at the Cruise Terminal took far too long (over an hour), with many hundreds of passengers standing and waiting fairly patiently whilst just two people checked tickets and passports, before allowing us along lengthy walkways to board the ship. I wonder why it has to be like this?
Ah well, my outside cabin on the lowest passenger cabin deck seemed fine, although the deadlights were down over the portholes, confirming that the weather had been poor coming into Marseille.
The BLEU DE FRANCE was built in 1981 by Bremer Vulkan, in Bremen, Germany , as the EUROPA, at 33,819 tons, with diesel engines, to be able to travel at 21 knots. She was to carry 600 passengers, and was launched on 22nd December 1980, before delivery on 5th December 1981 to Hapag-Lloyd AG, Bremen, ready for cruising world-wide. I understand that in April 1992 she was in collision near Hong Kong, and needed repairs which were done in Singapore. In 1998 she was sold to Star Cruises, and re-chartered by Hapag-Lloyd until July 1999 when she was temporarily renamed SUPERSTAR EUROPE, and moved to Asia, and was converted for cruising. In 2000 she was renamed SUPERSTAR ARIES, and four years later sold to Spanish Tour Operators Club Vacaciones, and renamed HOLIDAY DREAM, and registered in the Pullmantur fleet. However, in 2008 she was registered for Croisieres de France, the French subsidiary (set up in 2007) of Royal Caribbean International, and renamed BLEU DE FRANCE. I remember seeing her in the Barcelona shipyards a couple of years ago undergoing conversion, and it was interesting to see her with this new dark-blue hull.
The sailaway party was beside the swimming pool in the Zan Zi Bar (!)
and great fun, followed by first sitting dinner at 7 p.m. The menu was good and varied, and the service excellent and, as on previous Pullmantur cruise ships, the wine was all inclusive. Our Ocean Liner Society group consisted of 19 members and friends, and we had been allocated two round tables for dinner.
Afterwards we enjoyed the Abba Show in the forward L’Acajou lounge, and noted that we had departed at 5 p.m. from Marseille to sail to Olbia in Sardinia, a distance of 262 nautical miles.
Ships seen: Girolata, Monte d’Oro, Pascal Paoli, Daniele Casanova, Bleu de France, Louis Majesty, Thomson Dream, Al Sabini, Insignia, Celebrity Solstice (at sea during dinner)
Monday 21st June 2010
A lovely morning sailing over a calm sea towards Olbia, which is a gloriously scenic port for ship lovers. Mountains are all around, and we sailed into the narrow entrance past the lighthouse, admiring the views and the ferries ahead of us. A walk around the old town looking at theatres and other buildings was enjoyable, before returning to the port; I had my photo taken beside MOBY AKI, which made it look as if my ears were those of one of the cartoon characters on the ship’s hull!
MOBY TOMMY also arrived near us as we sat on the jetty, and it was amazing to watch her unload her passengers and vehicles and then load the next batch, all in the space of just 50 minutes! She departed with whistles and great speed – good fun to watch. I’ve been to this port several times and have lovely memories of each visit.
Back on board, at tea we learned from the steward that the ship is going to Brazil in October, after her current Mediterranean season ends, but will be back in the spring. Our departure from Olbia was at 6 p.m. to sail the 262 nautical miles to Palermo in Sicily.
Ships seen: Moby Wonder, Moby Freedom, Moby Aki, SNAV Toscana, SNAV Nuraghes, Moby Fantasy, Moby Otta, Strada Gothica, little blue tug Alessandro Onorato, Eliana M (the Moby cargo vessel), La Suprema
Tuesday 22nd June 2010
A leisurely breakfast set us up for 10.30 a.m. arrival in Palermo. The last time I was here I took a train to travel along the coast and cross the Straits of Messina, so I was interested in seeing more of the town on this visit. Several of us braved the rain showers and headed slowly amongst the crowds up into the town, enjoying the architecture as we went. Lunch was enjoyed in a local back street trattoria, before the walk back to the ship.
Dinner that evening included frogs legs as a starter which I tried and enjoyed, followed by delicious duck.
Departure was at 6 p.m. from Palermo, heading the 248 nautical miles to Valletta, Malta.
Ships seen: Raffaele Rubatino, Vincenzo Florio (with fire damage), Zeus Palace, SNAV Campania, Costa Concordia, MSC Fantasia, various Siremar ferries, Fantastic, Puglia
Wednesday 23rd June 2010
Arrival in Valletta Harbour was at 10 a.m. in some heat and humidity. Soon after that we enjoyed watching a seaplane take off in the harbour and head out to sea.
A helpful lady in the quayside Information desk told us how to get by local buses to the other harbour at Sliema, so we could take a Harbour Tour. Malta’s buses were painted yellow but there the similarity ended, as they had obviously been imported over many years from the UK – they were an extraordinary collection, including Leyland, AEG, Fordson Thames and BMC and all rather ancient but charming. The first bus to the terminal was devoted to St. Philip, and the connecting bus taking us to Sliema harbour was devoted to Lady Theresa, and we could hardly believe our eyes at the terminal – what fun to see so many aged buses from different manufacturers.
At the end of the route we bought tickets for the Harbour Tour on board EUROPA II, which seemed appropriate after travelling on the EUROPA that was now BLEU DE FRANCE. No sooner were we on board than we discovered that the food bar was closed, so we rushed to a local shop for picnic food, and on our return the anchor came up and off we sailed.
Our picnic was enjoyed, plus coffee bought on board, plus a surprise gift of a packet of chocolate Maltesers!
We saw the private yachts, the local fleets of fishing boats, Maersk ships, and the Virtu Ferries 2006 Austal-built MARIA DOLORES;
then we sailed round to the Grand Harbour, which I especially wanted to see in more detail.
During the Second World War, in August 1942, the Union-Castle ship ROCHESTER CASTLE (built in 1937 as a refrigerated cargo vessel) took a distinguished part in the relief of the island of Malta. This was a strategic place for Great Britain and her Allies and had been heavily bombed by the Germans. During 1941 the sea convoys carrying food and fuel had been getting through, with difficulty, and the bravery of the people of the island was then recognised by King George VI awarding the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta in April 1942.
However, by August 1942 little food remained for the inhabitants and little petrol for the Spitfires, and the convoys faced perilous journeys from Britain and from Egypt. On 2nd August 1942 a convoy of 14 merchant vessels, plus a large number of naval vessels, left Great Britain but nine were lost en route to Malta, and the rest arrived on 13th August in a stricken condition. At the head of this famous convoy into Valletta Harbour was the battered ROCHESTER CASTLE. She was barely buoyant, having a hole in her hull of 20 feet by 18 feet, plus about 200 holes from bomb splinters. The sight of about 70,000 people on the cliffs welcoming the ships and their cargo must have been an incredible and emotional sight, but Malta was relieved. This particular convoy was known as Operation Pedestal.
The ROCHESTER CASTLE had temporary repairs, despite daily air raids, and at the end of the year was able to leave for permanent repairs in New York, before returning to the UK in June 1943 with a full cargo load of food.
To this day the flag of Malta GC incorporates the award of the George Cross, and I was so pleased to see the Siege Bell in the Tower that was erected near the harbour entrance and opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the then President of Malta, Dr. Censu Tabone, in 1992. This commemorates the award and the relief of the island, as well as a memorial to the 7,000 people who lost their lives in the siege.
Our Harbour Tour ended and we waited for a bus back to the terminal, chatting with a lady from Captain Morgan Cruises. She asked how we had enjoyed our trip, asked if we were from England, and explained that after holidaying on the island with her family for many years, they decided to move, live and work there. We compared our different locations, and I found out she had lived about a mile away from where I live, and her son had been at the local school. Isn’t life full of coincidences…
Back on our ship, I found the view from my cabin was of two red ‘eyes’ – our ship was being bunkered by a red-hulled vessel, which was extremely close to us!
Later we were ready to sail at 3 p.m. before exploring the Gym, Spa and Thalassotherapy Pool – which I found very wet and painful, but others seemed to love.
Dinner that night was a celebration for the birthday of one of my good friends in our group, and as it was Pirate Night on board, the evening passed happily, sailing overnight the 227 nautical miles to our next port of call – Tunis, in Tunisia.
Ships seen: Europa II (for our harbour tour), Martha Ann (a private yacht), Holmwood, Cedar Sea, Mecklenburg (built in 1960, ex-ferry), MSC Splendida, Gozo Channel ferry, Maria Dolores of Virtu Ferries, Balluta Bay, Mistra Bay, Maersk Lifter, UOS Explorer, Maersk Beater, Bourbon Liberty 205, Vibrant Curiosity (a private yacht), CEC Delta, Santa Maria, Texas,
Thursday 24th June
Another exciting day today, all being well, as we are due to be alongside our berth in Tunis at 8.30 a.m. My first sight was of the good ship HABIB, and I am to sail on her next week. Her funnel is most unusual and reminded me of MAXIM GORKIY’s. I spent the morning on deck, enjoying the sights and smells, and watching the comings and goings in the harbour. Far away I could see mountains that were probably part of the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and near at hand I could see the cars and lorries waiting to board HABIB later in the day to sail north to Genoa.
THOMSON DREAM (ex COSTA EUROPA) was already in port, and as we watched she was joined by DANIELLE CASANOVA, COSTA PACIFICA, and SOVEREIGN (ex SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS); we watched HABIB’s ropes drop as she prepared to sail, and she was gone in just 6 minutes, ropes to harbour entrance. My last view was of 4 yellow steamer chairs on her stern deck, one of which I hoped to sit on next week.
At lunch some of us tried the Olive Bistrot’s menu on the open deck, and that was tasty but ‘showy’, with the food choices – all marinaded things - presented in very small Kilner jars. I remember a similar style of presentation in Dieppe one night, at the Hotel Windsor.
We sailed at 2 p.m. heading out on the 481 nautical miles for Ibiza, so the afternoon at sea was spent in resting and preparing for the evening’s Captain’s Cocktail Party. The queues were long, but the Captain chatted with all of us, and then invited us all to the Bridge tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. – what a treat. It was also Gala night, so Cocktails were followed by excellent food for dinner.
Ships seen: Thomson Dream, Danielle Casanova, Habib, Costa Pacifica, Sovereign, Finn Lines something on charter to Grimaldi, Aquae (LD Lines, b 1986), Salammbo 7 and Ulysse of Cotunav
Friday 25th June
Most of the day at sea, how lovely. Breakfast in Le Flamboyant Restaurant was good as usual, especially the delicious muesli freshly made in the galley to order. Our Bridge visit was the high spot of the morning, thanks to Captain Jean Pierre Ravanat, and all 19 of us were very grateful to him.
Le Café Crème is the venue for coffee at any time during the day and a steamer chair on deck is the ideal place to relax and watch the ocean or allow the eyes to close…
After dinner we arrived at Port d’Eivissa on the island of Ibiza. In fact we berthed way around the other side of the harbour, on what I remembered was the Isle of Botafoc. Having seen a ship of that name a few times, one learns to be careful of the pronunciation. The shuttle buses (9 Euros return) took us to the Old Town, with its happy memories of a visit a couple of years ago, with the castle on the hill, heat and strolling crowds, bars with weird and wonderful people inviting us inside, lots of souvenir and local craft shops and an interesting place to visit, day or night.
Ships seen: Zubaran, Nixe, Alcantara, Federico Garcia Lorca
Saturday 26th June
We have time to walk on the quayside and up to the lighthouse on the Isle of Botafoc before we leave Ibiza at 11 a.m. One discovery on the quayside, where we boarded the shuttle bus last night, is a ladies high-heeled shoe. I wonder if Cinderella was here? It wasn't glass, but it looked in good condition.
We watched the Captain and Pilot take us safely out of the port – and incidentally saw the Captain give the order to blow the whistle to signal our departure, and immediately put his fingers in his ears, as it was very loud. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a good ship’s typhoon!
The entertainment programme reminded us that the Final of the Mr Bleu de France competition was being held in Zan Zi Bar, so I went to look at that (underwhelming), then to look at the glorious sea, calm as the proverbial millpond. Sailing soon off the coast of Mallorca I saw many dolphins enjoying the delights of our wake waves – how wonderful.
I noticed that on the aft deck swimming pool were lots of pieces of soot, and a crew man busy sweeping up the soot from the deck.
The deck above was partly covered by canvas, and this had several holes in it, which looked like burn marks, and probably were. This is why the funnel design and height is an important part of any ship.
Then it was time for lunch, a rest on deck watching the sea,
quick packing ready for arrival back in Marseille in the morning, cocktails and the final dinner on board BLEU DE FRANCE.
Ships seen: S. F. Alhucemas, Nixe, Federico Garcia Lorca (again)
Sunday 27th June 2010
All too soon we were back in Marseilles, in beautiful hot clear weather,
and have to disembark after breakfast. The cruise on BLEU DE FRANCE had been most enjoyable and interesting, and I thought the ship, food and service had been very good. I would be happy to sail on her again, or one of her fleet sisters.
Ships seen: Costa Allegra, Atlantic Star, Louis Majesty, Al Sabine, Girolata, Paglia Orba, Mediterranee, Arcturus, Monte d’Oro, Ile de Beaute, Tassili II, Marfret Niolan, Al Sabini
(to be continued...)